My confusion over some of the provisions of the "Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests, Deacons, or Other Church Personnel" recently voted on by the USCCB.


About John Lilburne


New Norms discussed 6 November 2002


1432 K Sat 15 Jun 2002

I have been reading the documents approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). I find some of the requirements confusing.

For example, from the Norms:

7. When a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by priests, deacons, or other church personnel is made, the alleged offender will be relieved of any ecclesiastical ministry or function. An investigation in harmony with canon law will promptly commence. ...

How do you "relieve" a cardinal, bishop, priest, deacon, instituted lector or acolyte of "any ecclesiastical ministry or function"? Who does it? By what process or authority? The wording suggests this can be done before an investigation even commences. A cardinal, priest and lector continue to have duties under Canon Law and liturgical law. I don't see how they can be relieved of them, except by the Tribunal process.

In 9B the Norms seem to agree with me on this:

In every case, the processes provided for in canon law must be observed, and the various provisions of canon law must be considered (cf. Canonical Delicts Involving Sexual Misconduct and Dismissal from the Clerical State, 1995; Letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, May 18, 2001).

So are they proposing a "new law" to say the existing law must be followed? I find it confusing to say "canon law must be considered". Does this mean in the USA you will not have to follow canon law, just "consider" it?

I think 9C also has problems:

If the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state has not been applied (e.g., for reasons of advanced age or infirmity), the offender is to lead a life of prayer and penance. He will not be permitted to celebrate Mass publicly, to wear clerical garb, or to present himself publicly as a priest.

So it will be wrong for someone who has publicly been ordained as a priest, is known to the world as a priest, who is in fact a priest, to "present himself publicly as a priest". It seems like nonsense to me. What does he do on Sunday? He is required to attend Mass like everyone else in the Church. As a priest he has a particular role. This says he cannot do this publicly.

These Norms are awaiting the recognitio of the Apostolic See. Hopefully the Vatican will be able to clarify these issues and provide a better set of laws for the USA.

The issue of preventing someone from carrying out their ministry or liturgical role is mainly what my Tribunal case was about, with regard to my ministry as an instituted lector.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 15 June 2002. Link added 6 November 2002.

Other sites, the documents of the USCCB approved 14 June:

Essential Norms

Charter for the protection of children and young people